Why you should visit Disney World as an adult

By: Flash Parker

Photography by Flash Parker Author: Canadian Living Credits: Photography by Flash Parker


Why you should visit Disney World as an adult

By: Flash Parker
In real life, my parents are regular parents. Susie, my mom, is the cheery heart and soul of a staffing firm in Barrie, Ont., and my dad, Shawn, is the backbone of his namesake home-renovation business. They’re passionate about their jobs, heavily involved with Rotary International and dedicated to their family.

Like most hardworking folks, they crave an escape from their daily lives from time to time. While some people escape the doldrums of day to day by scaling indoor rock-climbing walls or performing in community theatre, my parents…well, they’re addicted to Disney. They began their Magic Kingdom pilgrimages after I went away to college and, in the years since, have made 19 visits to Florida’s Walt Disney World sans kids.

To be honest, I never quite understood their fascination. My job as a journalist puts me in hot pursuit of adventure 51 weeks of,the year: I’ve been suspended by my ankles over African waterfalls, I’ve evaded grizzlies in the Wyoming high country and I’ve bounced over India’s endless Thar Desert dunes on ornery camels. But, for Mom and Dad, I’m willing to play along. My fiancée, Megan, and I don’t get to see my folks as often as we’d like, so to mark their 20th visit, we’ve decided to meet them in the place they love most.

A worry-free escape
Let’s just say my parents are different at Disney. We’ve hardly got past exchanging hugs when Dad announces, “I can’t go anywhere without my bling.” He has slipped into his Magic Kingdom ensemble: a Mickey Mouse cutoff tee, shorts and a chunky lanyard loaded with collectible Disney pins. I’m aghast. Mom, also dressed to impress in Minnie Mouse ears, joins us in the living room of our Beach Club villa. “Are you ready to meet Mickey?” she asks, wearing a wider smile than any I’ve ever seen. I guess I’m ready.

Our wristbands grant us entry to the theme park, and everywhere I look, my Disney movie–infused childhood stares back and smiles. Dad marks the occasion by buying me my first collectible pin, an old-fashioned PLuto (pin 1106, if you're keeping track), and affixes it to my hat. “You’re hooked now,” he says before trading one of his pins with a passing cast member. “I needed this one,” says Dad, showing off a shiny new Oswald the Lucky Rabbit pin, then trying to find space for it on his lanyard.

Mom leads us on a tour of the park. We follow a pop-up parade to the towering Cinderella Castle, which I’d seen looking sparkly in the opening credits of Disney films, but in real life it’s jaw-droppingly magical. Wandering toward Tomorrowland, we watch a mime perform a spinning-saucer show while we snack on corn dogs from the park’s “very best food cart” (according to my mom). Having done a little research, I want to show off, too, so I spark up a conversation with the first trash can I see. “This is Push the Talking Trash Can," I say rather smugly, wrapping my arms around Push's midsection. "Gross," says my mom. "Push is retired. That’s a real waste bin.” Dejected, I notice Gaston’s Tavern across the square and catch a glimpse of a beer menu. “Not before your first wild ride,” says Mom.

Disney's rides and attractions
A wild ride for her offers as many thrills as Pixie Hollow on a Saturday night. She insists we head to It’s a Small World— it was her first ride as a child—so we climb into a crowded skiff and begin the slow cruise through a subterranean lair of “happy children.” She has been on this ride so many times, she can sing the song in each child’s native tongue. When I look over at her, I see a smile on her face and what looks like dampness in the corner of her eye. I’m struck by how warmly my mom, who turned 50 last year, embraces nostalgia. My cynical, jaded traveller’s heart is suddenly injected with a sense of wonder as I share this moment with her. I’m beginning to understand that Disney World simply makes my parents happy.

When the ride ends, I purchase a T-shirt that celebrates my Small World survival. I’m definitely in the Disney spirit. Before visiting the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction, my dad presents me with my second pin: a special-edition Mickey of the Caribbean skull and crossbones. He adds a third for good measure. “Your hat is filling up fast,” says Megan, giggling at my decorated chapeau.

The next day, we’re careful to save time for Epcot’s Mission: Space, Mom’s favourite ride. I’ve always had difficulty getting behind the idea of a simulator ride since real life is so much more fun, but my mom insists: “You’ve never been to Mars.” Three minutes later, she has to hand her free-diving, glacier-surfing son a barf bag. I am shown little pity by anyone in my family.

After a day of attractions and dinner, Megan and I, already up past our bedtime, head back to our room. Mom and Dad, of course, know the night is young. They slip back into Magic Kingdom to catch The Kiss Goodnight, a two-minute show during which Cinderella Castle twinkles while “When You Wish Upon a Star” plays. This is how Magic Kingdom says goodbye to its guests at the end of each day. By the time Megan and I see my parents the next morning, I’m not sure that they’ve even been to sleep, and my dad is adorned with an entirely new set of pins. He must own close to 1,000 by now.

Re-discovering your inner child

Our days together, filled with laughs, whip by. I proudly watch as they share their Disney insight with total strangers, and I smile when I think about how they approach each day at the park as if it’s their first visit. We double down on our favourite rides and wax poetic on the nature of travel: Mom wants to know if the animals in Africa are as friendly as the ones at Animal Kingdom, so I promise to call her the next time I kiss a gorilla in the Congo. As we climb into a rusty mine cart in the Forbidden Mountain foothills, Dad asks if a trip to Expedition Everest is anything like travel in Nepal. Then, with an earnest expression, he surprises me by asking if I would ever consider coming back to Disney World with them. Just as I’m about to answer, we’re hauled through the village of Serka Zong and into the high Himalayas, where the frightening yeti plots our doom. Somehow, we escape unscathed. This time, I buy Dad a pin in observance of our adventure. I think he knows the answer to his question.

Building relationships on vacation
Phone calls made while shuttling the kids to karate. The occasional Sunday family dinner. Pop-ins en route to somewhere else. These quick hits might provide opportunities to catch up with parents, but they’re not exactly relationship builders, says Dr. Mel Borins, family physician, associate professor at the University of Toronto and author of Go Away Just for the Health of It. “That bond needs to be worked on and nourished,” says Dr. Borins, who recommends multigenerational vacations as a way to reconnect without distraction.

Travelling together, he says, allows family members to see each other in a new light. “You get to see the whole person—not just a mom who does dishes but a woman who loves roller coasters.” Vacations can also highlight what is and isn’t working in the relationship and prompt people to make the needed shifts to improve communication. And if sharing a condo unit sounds too close for comfort, Dr. Borins suggests staying in the same building at least. “Spending time together, in most cases, brings people closer,” he says.

Get ready to relax in the sun by checking out one of these awesome beach vacations.

This story was originally titled "Away We Go!" in the February 2015 issue.
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Why you should visit Disney World as an adult